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Local schools wired to alert parents, students


Kristin Mamrack



From mass communications programs to Facebook and Twitter, local school districts are utilizing current technology to better inform students, parents and the community of school happenings. 


The Aberdeen School District, Lowndes County School District and the Starkville School District use Alert Now, a rapid-communication service delivering voice, e-mail and emergency text messages. 


"We''re using that to keep parents informed of activities in the school district and other announcements," Aberdeen School District Superintendent Chester Leigh, said of Alert Now. "In the event we have a school closure or early release, that will be used. By using Alert Now, there is no doubt (parents) will be informed of things going on in our district. We have good records of things related to parental contact. When we have an announcement, we can dial in to the service, make a recording and dispatch a call out." 


During recent tests of the Alert Now system, Aberdeen school officials were able to make 1,300 calls in "just a couple minutes," Leigh noted. 


"It''s a nice feature," he said, adding the district soon will present a Facebook policy to the school district board of trustees for possible adoption. "(Technology) is a very fast way of communicating with a lot of people in a short time." 


"Keeping our parents and community informed is a priority of the Lowndes County School District," said LCSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Edna McGill. "Parents are one of our best sources for increasing student achievement and when they are more informed about our programs and resources, they are better equipped to help us meet our district mission, ''Challenge all students to their greatest potential.'' 


"The Alert Now system allows us to send a telephone or e-mail message to provide parents information about school events, programs or emergencies," she added, noting the system will be used regarding Parent Conference Day on Oct. 16. "We will use the system to notify parents about school cancellations, due to inclement weather, as well as remind families about various events, including report card distribution, open house and field trips. We are also sending a message to remind parents about all of the Web-based instructional programs that Lowndes County has available for parents to use at home." 


Programs parents can access at home via the Internet include, SkillsTutor, a math e-textbook, Prentice Hall Math Online, Study Island, and accelerated math and reading content. 


"We are very excited to have a progressive district with excellent technological support that allows families to keep up with what is going on in our district," McGill said. "Alert Now and the other Web-based home resources are valuable tools to improve parent communication and student achievement." 


"Last year, we began using Alert Now," said Nicole Thomas, public information officer for the Starkville School District. "The system allows (the district) to communicate with parents via e-mail and voice messaging to provide important information about school events or emergencies. We have used Alert Now to notify parents of school delays or cancellations due to inclement weather, as well as remind parents about various events, including open houses, principal forums and more." 


The Starkville School District, in September, also launched STI Home, a Web-based program allowing parents to access information about their children''s grades, homework and discipline and attendance records. 


The district additionally hosts principal forums, during which parents can submit questions, anonymously if they wish, about their children''s schools. 


In addition to the district Web site and a blog authored by board members, parents and others, the Columbus Municipal School District uses Twitter to get the word out about district news. 


The district also uses a School Messenger system, referred to as Falcon Blast, to notify parents and students of emergency weather alerts, Parent-Teacher Organization meetings and to make calls when students are absent. 


Immanuel Center for Christian Education also uses Twitter, and, this summer, established a Facebook account for announcements and school communications. 


"We did it mainly to improve our communication, because we''re like other places, we have a Web page and a school marquee and other stuff," said Immanuel Administrator Bob Williford. "We felt like it would increase and improve our community. The comments from our parents and alumni have been very positive and they feel like it''s helped us improve. (Using current technology has) worked very well for us."




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